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CAO Hepburn explains costs for Picton Main Street trees

UPDATE OCT 3 – Mayor Robert Quaiff shared a letter from County CAO James Hepburn to clarify how the cost of the trees came about:

Good afternoon Members of Council,
I have received a number of inquiries from Council regarding the price of replacing trees on Picton Main Street, and I wanted to ensure that you are all aware of the rationale behind that expense. The cost of replacing trees was a line item in the tenders that five bidders provided. By contracting with Taggart Construction, we accepted the line item price of replacing trees as a component of the overall Tender. Of the original tenders, Taggart was the lowest overall and was awarded the $4.4 million contract. The price per replacement tree varied between bidders from approximately $2,200 to $8,000 (and averaged $5,540 for the other four tenders); however, as you are aware, the price per tree was only one line item of many. For example, the company that quoted the lowest cost per replacement tree ($2,200) was one of the highest overall bidders, with a tender proposal almost exactly $1 million more than that of Taggart Construction.
The original price per tree in the tender from Taggart was $5,400. However, this was for trees 2 inches in diameter. A decision was made during the summer to replace the trees with 4 inch diameter trees, which brought the per tree price up to $6,525. I would also like to note that this price does not simply include the tree itself—it includes the installation cost, a decorative tree grate, tree guards, root drains, root deflectors and a two year warranty.
I should also note that the only companies that are allowed to do work on the construction site are those that have been subcontracted by Taggart. This is part of the contract and as Taggart is in control of the job site it is standard practice given that it is a question of liability. If a decision was made to engage another company to plant the trees at a lower per tree cost, we would need to wait until Taggart had completed the project. This would likely result in a much higher per tree cost because it would involve damaging and replacing some of the sidewalks that are just now being installed.
I hope that this email has eased the concerns that you have regarding the price of replacing trees on Picton Main Street. I encourage you to share this information with any of your constituents that may approach you with concerns on the subject. Should you have further questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
James Hepburn
Chief Administrative Officer
The Corporation of the County of Prince Edward
T: 613.476.2148 ext. 1003 | F: 613.476.5727

Picton Main Street trees will be replaced

Royal-Hotel-recentThe combination of damage and severe drought over the summer will result in the replacement of all the trees in the construction zone of Picton’s Main Street.

Mayor Robert Quaiff said the County expected some tree roots would be damaged during excavation work but the County had hoped to keep as many existing trees as possible.

“In view of the harsh conditions that we witnessed this summer and concerns around the proximity of certain trees to work being undertaken, we engaged a professional arborist to evaluate the likelihood of survival of all trees in the construction zone,” said Quaiff.

That report, received Tuesday morning, indicates the trees in the construction zone were significantly damaged and are expected to deteriorate over the next few years.

“If we do not replace these trees now, it is extremely likely that we will have to replace them in the next few years, which would involve damaging surrounding pavement and necessitate additional construction,” said Quaiff. “It saddens me to see the trees go, but faced with the alternative, I truly believe replacing the trees immediately is the best option available to us.”

Quaiff noted the trees add to the visual identity and ambiance of Main Street and contribute to its ‘sense of place.’
A secondary consideration of the full replacement is that replanting all of trees will give a consistent look throughout Main Street.

“We are nearing the end of the Picton Main Street construction project, and I am very thankful for the patience that our community has shown throughout its duration. Once complete, we will be left with a beautiful commercial centre that is prepared to meet the needs of our community over the coming decades.”

The $189,000 price for 29 trees includes supply of all material, plus labour and equipment cost for the following work:
1. Twenty-nine 4-inch diameter trees.
2. Installation of a pre-manufactured root drained system.
3. Installation of a pre-manufactured root director system.
4. Installation of a 1500mm high (5ft) black finished tree guard.
5 Installation of a one-meter square cast iron black finish tree grate flush with the concrete sidewalk.
6. Provision of a two-year warranty from the date of planting and, if necessary, the replacement of non-healthy trees during the warranty period.
7. At the end of the warranty period the contractor will prune dead or broken branches if required.

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  1. Susan says:

    It sounds like there has been some misreporting of the facts here and the only appeal was an appeal for common sense.

  2. Dennis Fox says:

    What I am about to say is not a personal comment on any particular councillor- instead it is what I believe to be an accurate observation… Gary has highlighted the problem of our municipality not being in the position of knowing how to calculate risk and not having the expertise to accurately estimate the costs of large projects. This unchanging situation results in costly mistakes being made from the start of the process. Having a citizens group opposing a project should not come as a surprise and nor should it be criticized – it happens everywhere. It is called democracy. The large size of Council (who believe they know it all) and not having enough trained staff to do the job properly is costing this community. As we know, nothing has changed since the days of the sewage plant decision. Despite council’s recent feeble attempt to address their composition this kind of decision-making will occur again!

    I may be wrong on this, but didn’t the council of the day also hire the consulting firm TSH to cost out the sewage plant and eventually fired them because they thought their costs were too high. Unfortunately, TSH were stilled paid their $500K for council breaking their contract – or do I have this confused with another project? Same old, same old…

  3. Eight says:

    The trees on Main Street may have looked nice but persons
    who worked in stores that had to clean up after them they were not that nice.

    Leaves were tracked into stores with every person that came in or if a door was open they blew in.

    These locusts were not the correct species.

  4. Gary Mooney says:

    The primary error of underestimating the cost of the plant was made prior to its applications for grants, but revealed only after the grants were locked in.

    John has used the term “appeal”, alluding to some formal process like an OMB appeal. In fact, Concerned Citizens simply made deputations revealing the County’s lack of research re alternatives. Council could have ignored the group and gone ahead, but accepted that the County had not done proper due diligence.

    I’m an actuary and know something about risk-adjusted cost. County put zero risk on the solution chosen and an arbitrarily high risk on all less expensive alternatives. In effect, Council chose their comfort over ratepayers’ affordability.

  5. John Thompson says:

    Susan with the tender result in hand the County did not start because of the appeal. I was not on Council during this first go around. Post 2006, the only choice we had was to seek new proposals and go ahead with the best offer on the table. It was shockingly high but there was no choice but to go forward. The old plant was in violation and the grants offer had deadlines.

  6. Susan says:

    Thanks for the response John. Confused however. Gary M said I believe, Council could have proceeded at anytime. Why was the tender not approved? What kind of appeal was made? Was it a work stopping appeal?

  7. John Thompson says:

    Susan, Council could not just proceed anytime with the plant. You either can proceed with a tender or not and then it is off of the table. Council was acting as the result of an appeal so started over to get the most cost effective solution that was offered. The extra 10 million landed here as the grants did not increase. We had to move on.

  8. Dennis Fox says:

    John – really? You have blamed everyone, from citizens to the province for a process, that by your own count took COUNCIL at least 8 years to deal with – and yet have exonerated Council of any responsibility! For anyone who is familiar with the planning/public works process and how government funding works, they would know that your explanation – pardon the pun, doesn’t hold water! However, it does show clearly why this community is in financial difficulties… now briefly back to these 29 trees – it appears that NOTHING has changed since your time on council!

  9. Susan says:

    John; Could Council have proceeded at anytime with the plant?

  10. hockeynan says:

    Thanks John.If people would mind there own business things would go much higher smoother

  11. John Thompson says:

    As there seems to be a desire for the sewage plant history, this is the Coles notes version:
    – The 2002-2006 Council had accepted a tender to build a new plant.
    – This did not go forward because a Citizens appeal.
    – The Council of 2006-2010 had to move forward with a new process as they had no power to proceed otherwise with the Provincial requirement for a new plant.
    – They proceeded with a process which was recommended by the appellants. This involved retaining the suggested consultant from the West and asking for Design, Build, Operate proposals.The working committee for this consisted of Councillors, County staff, and a rep from the citizens group. The citizen rep soon resigned for “health” reasons leaving the position open for another citizen rep but none came forward.
    – The proponents were required to choose the best site and technology for the plant. Delhi was a permitted site if the company would take the risk of the stability of the footings.
    – The committee including legal evaluated the proposals and accepted the one which provided the best risk adjusted cost. All were in agreement with the decision including the consultant.
    – The end result of the delay as caused by the appeal was a lower capacity plant in the same place with an extra cost of about 10 million but there was no choice but to go forward as the old plant was no longer permitted.

  12. hockeynan says:

    Good for you snowman. You tell it like it is.we need more of you

  13. Snowman says:

    Arm chair Quarterbacks, equipped with 20/20 hindsight. If you really need to pin blame for the water/waste water debacle ,go back to the Town of Picton in the 70’s and 80’s.
    They allowed an aging infrastructure to deteriorate beyond any normal life span. Every road surface rebuild in Picton has included complete replacement of the pipes below. This is not normal.
    The Council of 2003-2006 made a mistake in listening to, too many self appointed experts who spout “due diligence” on every topic that comes up,as if it were some kind of religion. That was the dithering council on this file, in hindsight, but who could have ever foreseen a project doubling in cost in 3-4 years( in a period of no inflation) like this one did!
    There are many reasons for high rates, this plant is one of them for sure. But it is not the only one. Do some research into it.

  14. Susan says:

    A connection to that Council would give a different take on how this matter was mishandled. That’s not taking out frustration, it’s a desire to have the debacle accurately accounted for. This may be the single largest error made by any Council from a monetary standpoint. From a rights perspective, this Council owns that by their denying residents voter parity.

  15. Dennis Fox says:

    It is unfortunate that the discussion has wandered so far off topic. It is a healthy debate when we can remember past events (like the sewage plant) and then relate them to the current topic – which is the cost of 29 trees at almost $190K! For me anyway, I find it uncomfortable when one person unfairly takes their frustrations out on another. Let’s keep our eyes on the ball – meaning to take your anger out on Council – they are the decision makers here and they alone are responsible for the over expenditures on both the sewage plant and on the trees – despite the length of time between the two events. There have been dozens of examples during this same time period where they have raised taxes and then wasted more money again – like the Million Dollars on Union Road! The best thing we can do is to continue the dialogue and then encourage people to vote for change in the next election – it is sure needed! Jason is right, let’s sit back, put our feet up and have a relaxing cup – and point the finger at who is really responsible for this mess!

  16. Mark says:

    This is good information, thanks as painful as it is.

  17. Gary Mooney says:

    Re the wastewater treatment plant, some people attempted to blame Concerned Citizens for delays.

    Any delays were the responsibility of Council, which had the power, at any time, to vote to proceed with the plant.

    Our group asserted that the County had not done proper due diligence. Council accepted this, and proceeded to conduct due diligence, aided substantially by our group.

    Then Council ignored all of the additional information and advice obtained, and went with staff’s overspecified, inadequately-costed, obsolete-technology, pump-uphill recommendation.

    In any case, I don’t accept that there were delays, because the plant got built by the deadline required to receive the grants.

    The current high rates are a direct result of the County’s choice of the most comfortable, but most expensive, solution.

  18. sophie says:

    Appreciate your background information and comments, Jason. Thank you.

  19. Jason Parks says:

    This will be my final post on this forum…

    To Susan’s question, No, there’s no conflict because I stopped covering council when my father was elected in the fall of 2007, Any of the meetings I’m recalling (the Oct 5, 2005 public information session at the crystal palace is one that’s vivid- put your hand up if you were there) were ones I covered.
    Once he elected, I was immediately off the municipal beat and on to QHC and Hastings Prince Edward District School Board where I’ve been since.
    I haven’t covered or wrote about municipal of any serious substance since he was sworn in to serve his single term
    whether they dithered or not post-2008, I really can’t be qualified to offer expert opinion.
    Maybe it did drag on too long. I’m sure Gary Mooney would disagree as due diligence was paid. I’m sure Dennis Fox would affirm the lag was costly.
    I’m not defending council for the waste water situation, I pay through the nose like everyone else on the system and swear every time I open my GDbill. What started as a $60 bill in 04 is now a $130 bill in ’16. As a ratepayer I really wish we had a cheaper waste water plant.
    I’m simply trying to provide context as someone who was at the (countless) meetings in 2005, 06 and 07.
    You want to talk about locations? Remember a proposal to put it near the Warings creek headlands? Remember the costs involved with putting it south of Macaulay Village?
    If people want to be armchair quarterbacks a decade after the fact, so be it.
    It’s been a real slice here. I’m extremely accessible at the Picton Gazette office. Want to chat about my recollection about public works meetings that happened a decade ago? Thursdays are good. Bring coffee, medium two cream.
    Hope that answers your question Susan.

  20. Susan says:

    Because there may be a family conflict within the Council of the day. Awaiting clarification on that.

  21. Samantha says:

    I am fascinated that Jason’s effort to provide background and context about this issue has been framed as partisan support for council. I don’t get it.

  22. Susan says:

    Jason; did you have a relative on that dithering Council that you defend?

  23. Jason Parks says:

    I don’t know Janice, am I really being supportive when I explained why the new plant couldn’t be built on a site that was a previous dump and couldn’t support infrastructure of that size? I was just trying to add some context to the wastewater situation as someone who was at the meetings in 2005 to 2009. Feel free to contact me at the Gazette office if you want to discus this or anything else in person.

  24. Hildagard says:

    Jason, why do you seem to be so supportive of County council? There obviously were other more appropriate sites to build this waste water plant than on a high hill pumping sludge uphill. All this council seems to do is waste money!

  25. Mark says:

    I cannot recall retroactive funding being awarded. Having said that this is a special case ( unsustainable burden). There would also never be a better scenario for such a case with Liberals at both the Fed level and Provincial, both rolling out infrastructure funding. It takes skill to present the special case as
    I have prepared such. It certainly would be worth the effort.

  26. Gary Mooney says:

    Jason, the group to which you refer was Concerned Citizens of Prince Edward County (CCPEC). I wasn’t involved in the first proposal (“living machine”) but was the President of CCPEC during the time of the second go-round.

    The plans for the plant were overspecified, inadequately costed right from the start and based on 60-year old technology. The provincial and federal shares were based on the original inadequate costing, so ratepayers were left holding the bag for the overages.

    Overspecified? In 2015 the plant ran at about 25% of capacity on average. Wellington ran at about 40%.

    Our group did research, and suggested improvements, that should have been provided by staff. Council was unwilling to challenge staff, and so we have what we have. Note: Shortly after the decision on the plant, and before construction, all three senior waterworks staff left the employ of the County.

    Based on research that I did a couple of years ago, the County’s water and wastewater rates combined are in the top 2% in Canada.

    I don’t see a solution to the situation, unless the provincial and federal government cough up some retroactive funding, and I don’t know if this is ever done.

    This is the short version of the story; the long version would take hours.

  27. Emily says:

    To “Dither”:

    – a state of flustered excitement or fear
    – to act irresolutely
    – change one’s mind
    – be indecisive
    – to delay taking action because you are not sure about
    what to do
    – hesitate, falter, waver, vacillate

    I think the Council of the day met the definition.

  28. Jason Parks says:

    There is definitely a case to be made that the council of the day went above and beyond their fiduciary duty to that particular group. I didn’t realize it went on for five years but I knew it certainly dragged out. With it now in place, wouldn’t all the system users love to see that plant with about half the price tag on it?

  29. Dennis Fox says:

    I believe Jason is correct in his main points – namely that the council of the day listened to a group of concerned citizens, which in itself was the right thing to do. However, this exercise dragged on for over five(5) years! What was just as equally aggravating was having a council that played politics with this issue (particularly around election time) and allowed the citizen’s group to delay them in their decision-making. Heck, that same council was so concerned with not upsetting anyone, they even flew out on a ONE DAY trip to Okotoks, Alberta(at the request of these citizens) to view a waste water plant – an exercise that accomplished nothing, but wasted a lot of tax dollars. On one hand it is great for a council to listen seriously to the public’s concerns, but at some point they knew that a decision was needed. Waiting five years to make it was either stupidity or negligence on their part. Allowing construction costs to almost double, without additional funding was entirely Council’s responsibility – the plant also ended up going where it was originally planned five years earlier – making the five year delay even harder to understand. However, what needs to be remembered is something that many water users don’t want to admit to either – while this debate raged on, they also supported those concerned citizens and enjoyed the existing water rates of that time. The problem was, no one knew how much this was going to end up costing and that topic should have been brought forward years before, by Council. In fact, wasn’t that part of their job? So why weren’t the public informed years earlier? We all know that the water rate is not what this article is about – but the distrust that the public feel about council’s spending – even on trees, is well rooted in past experiences. Nothing will change, until council’s approach to problem solving does. And they wonder why the public want fewer of them to deal with??

  30. Jason Parks says:

    I think it’s incorrect to say the Finnegan government dithered. The plans for a wastewater treatment plant were in place, there was provincial and federal money available and all seemed to be heading towards a plant that would have enough capacity for future growth at a cost, IIRC, about $16 million.
    Then, some concerned citizens came forward and essentially held council to to the wall in order to explore a “living machine’ type system where plants would eat away the solids and leave nothing but drinkable water. this website can be accessed for more info.
    By the time this exercise was completed and it was determined to the concerned citizen’s group’s satisfaction that such a system wouldn’t work here, the municipality missed out on a round of funding and basically had to start the application process all over. The cost rose to $22 million by the next time there was an intake. I was not covering council at that point so i don’t recall what led to the final bill being $30 million but do remember vividly that the County could have had a plant for $16 million in place by 2009 or so (again, IIRC).
    Also, when it comes to the location, you can argue about Champlain’s Lookout not being ideal, however, there was no way the county was going to be able to build the new plant at Delhi. I recall them examining (test excavations) the lands there and, as most long time residents will recall, that was the site of the former Picton dump. It was found during the test excavations there are still bags of trash intact, buried there that haven’t even started to decompose yet.
    Not saying there were poor choices but there were factors involved in the process (concerned citizens groups and a existing plant with all the pipes leading to it built on an old dump) that Leo and that council of the day had to work around.

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